Strong as Steel

I can do a pull up. A full, real deal, no-cheats pull up. It took me 32 years, one Amazon Prime pull up bar order, and a final decision to train for American Ninja Warrior (ANW). But I finally accomplished the goal. (The first of many where ANW is concerned!) And let me tell you, IT FEELS SO GOOD.

It’s also still very difficult. I groan and grunt to get my chin above that bar. I used to focus only on that feeling. On the difficulty of it. The shaking muscles. The pain. The full body strain it took to get there. But focusing on how hard it was actually made the task itself even harder.

I realized one day that I could change my focus. I could choose instead to focus on the strength I feel when I grip the bar. On the flexing muscles that have just a bit more definition than they did yesterday. I focus on the strength that I know I’m building with each rep; I imagine the tiny tears I’m creating in my muscles, knowing that when those fibers fuse together again, I will be stronger. Every time. Stronger. I breathe deeply, focusing on muscle memory, and it is suddenly easier to make it just a couple inches higher.

I focus on how strong I feel as I pull myself up. 

This doesn’t just work for physical strength. I’ve been building emotional strength using the same strategy. I’ve been pitted against some pretty intense emotional challenges this last year.

I could’ve chosen to groan my way through meeting my husband’s mistress for the first time. Instead, I looked her in the eye and stepped forward, extending my hand to shake hers. And I felt the strength in my grip.

I could’ve grunted angrily under my breath when I first saw her hold my son. Instead, I felt the flex in my muscles as I hugged him tight the next chance I could, pulling my sweet boy extra close.

I could’ve focused on how difficult it was to see the picture of the two of them framed above their mantle or to smile at my son as he told me about the plans my ex-husband made for her birthday. But instead, I focused on how those little tears in my heart will mend, and my heart will be stronger for it.

I could’ve let myself shake with tears when I heard my child tell her he loved her for the first time. Instead, I breathed deeply and reminded myself of the depth and uniqueness of our relationship.

I could’ve focused on the pain of knowing that a family I’ve accepted as my own, and who has accepted me just the same, is moving forward with her, creating new relationships and bonds. Instead, I focused on the memories our family has already made and will continue to make, knowing they illustrate relationships that will never be broken.

I could’ve felt the full body strain of sitting alone, just a few feet from the two of them at soccer practice. While they sat close, huddled in the wind, sharing a mug of hot chocolate. While they talked quietly and laughed. While she wiped chocolate off the tip of his nose. While I shared custody of the high fives during water breaks. Instead, I squared my shoulders and sat just a couple inches higher. I smiled and made small talk, feeling endurance and strength building with each passing moment.

And once again, I focus on how strong I feel as I pull myself up.

Every time. Stronger.

Amber Dawkins
Amber loves jellybeans, morning snuggles, and new adventures. Personality tests peg her as 93% extroverted. She loves to write, but most of the time, you’ll find her behind her camera lens. Amber left her teaching position in 2016 to turn her passion into a full time photography career. She now spends time photographing homes for real estate agents, updating headshots, freelancing for local magazines, and creating branding imagery for businesses by capturing their spaces, products, people, and processes. She also does portrait sessions for families, children, and high school seniors. Amber recently got married in a small pandemic friendly wedding. As mama to one and stepmama to four, she thrives on the happy chaos of a large, blended family. Amber lives with both Cystic Fibrosis and CF Related Diabetes and thanks God daily for His blessings and the medical advances that continue to keep her as healthy as possible.


  1. Your strength-physically, mentally, and emotionally-is amazing and inspiring. I like your perspective and method of focusing on how strong you feel instead of being weighed down by the pain and negativity. Thank you for sharing!

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